After a long, cold spring the moths are really back at long last.
My moth trap has been so empty this spring that I was beginning to despair, but it is not extinction emergency, just cool, wet weather. With temperatures suddenly in the twenties the moths are reappearing in my moth trap. They are all weeks late, but better late than never!
When I was younger, people laughed at Prince Charles for talking to plants and for taking a profound interest in ecology. It would appear he was right all along. He was right to care about the health of his country side and of the planet; he wasn’t weird he was simply far sighted and everybody else is just catching up with his way of thinking!
To celebrate his coronation as King Charles III , I am just sharing the wild plants that are flowering in my garden today. I have shop bought exotic flowers that I also love, but these photos are all of native flowers that I have not weeded or herbicided or mown flat in the profoundly mistaken belief that “ tidy” is good in anyway.
I like to think that the new King would approve of this season.
My young neighbour is spraying weed killer all around his house, I can hear the swish of the hand pump and soon all will be a yellow kill zone . Weeds and all the creatures they support are dirty and wants his new house to be “clean” and dead.
The kite is restless, she is quartering low over the gardens, her tail fanned out in the uplift of a moment’s sunshine after so much rain.
Sitting under the covered patio a cold wind blows away the perfume of the cherry tree and the rain slides off the white petals
A black redstart investigates last years nest in the rafters. Her mate crackles electric pulses of encouragement from the roof top, but she thinks it too cold a spot for this spring and keeps looking.
The dog wood is suddenly green with new leaves against the red stems and in the shelter of the new bounty, a black cap sings out his heart, throwing notes and trying trills between the rain drops. It is black again and the rain drums down marooning me in the abri
Blue tits and great tits continue to burr back and forth to the seed feeders. One crashed into the window today is his desperation to feed. I found him apparently lifeless and tiny jewelled perfection on the step. As I moved towards him, a upturned claw twitched and I saw he was only stunned. A few minutes of safety from the cats in a up turned paper basket and he was restarted , restored and back in the tree.
There is a chiff chaff calling and a flight of crows scrambled indignantly from their nests to ward off a pair of ravens down from the forest hungrily looking for nestlings. The woodpecker has finally discovered the fat balls.
Spring in all its noisy urgency is not deterred by a little rain and neither should I !
What we choose to do with the little (or big if we are lucky!) bit of land we call garden , really does matter and the absolute worse thing we can do is kill it with concrete or tarmac.
I am really pleased that water companies are recognising how important it is to just let the rain fall on soil, even if you aren’t growing anything wonderful for wildlife in the soil. The rain goes down and is ends up in the water table, slowly percolating through the soil. It is a very small thing we can do. I call it avoiding ” the curse of tidy” but it makes a big difference to the health of the planet.
Some are tiny, some are huge. Some are quick and some are slow, but they each carry within them all the information they need to make everything from an oak tree to a tiny daisy.
Seeds are germinating all around us in the earth, but the ones on my window sill are the most keenly awaited in my world and I stare at the eye level miracle with obsessive greed.
It snowed this morning, but my blue peas are germinating nonetheless. I am growing them because apparently they are the same species as were found in the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamen. The flower is bright blue and I have no idea if the pea is even edible. The ancient Egyptians buried their rulers with gold, but they also ensured that they included seeds : the real wealth of life.
The root is pushing down into the soil as we speak and the shoot has already emerged, with the shape of the leaves to come stamped upon the stem.
As a title, spring snow flake could be describing a late weather event , but after a few recent flurries of snow I am pleased to say it actually describes a flower!
Spring snow flake is like a large snow drop with jaunty pointed petals that flowers in my local forest in the very early spring. As March and spring are now here and I delightedly detached the February page from my calendar yesterday, I thought it was time to see if they had started flowering.
After a long walk through the bare woods it was a great pleasure to see a sweep of their white flowers in the grass by the stream
Leucojum vernum is native to central and southern Europe from Belgium to the Ukraine. It is naturalised in some places in Britain and even the US, as it make a lovely garden bulb in cooler shady spots.
My neighbours tell me it is called the snow piercer in France, as it’s sharp leaves often have to come up through the snow.
Today was snow free. There were black wood peckers in the forest and yellow hammers in the hedge rows were singing “ a little bit of bread and no cheeeeeeese!”.
There has been sunshine and there have been cold winds. It’s still only February, but the promise of spring is there in the air.
The garden is still mud brown and I long for the colour and exuberance of flowers.
So, I stare at the orchid flowering on my kitchen table. It came from the co-op on special offer, but it was designed for some where far more lush and exotic than my plastic covered winter table.
The nectar lines are to tempt in the insects that the orchid will reward with nectar and take payment in the form of pollen transported on the insects’ backs. All that irresistible beauty is to ensure that the orchid will cross pollinate and seeds will form.
No chance of that in this kitchen!
However on the garden table outside, something more promising is taking place.
Here a few violas from the garden centre have survived the snow and perked up in the sunshine. They are very close to their wild heartsease pansies and have not been so over bred so that no bee can use them.
A huge Queen bumble bee has recognised the honey guide makings on the flower and she is in! This is a scarce time for flowers for us all, but she has emerged from her winter dormancy to find what ever she can to fuel her self up in order to found her new dynasty in the garden.
I think she is a bombus terrestris Queen and she will found her colony underground, probably in an abandoned mouse hole.
I hope she found enough food in these few early flowers on my patio table to hatch her new season of pollinators for the flowers that we all long to see.
I’ve just seen my first butterfly of the year in the garden. It was a lovely yellow male brimstone ( the females are green) and its similarity to the colour of butter makes it the original butterfly in the English language!
It is commonly called a Brimstone in English, where it’s yellow colour is associated with sulphur. “ Hell fire and brimstone” apparently comes from the sulphuric smell left after a divine lighting strike has cut down a sinner. The French name Citron is much milder by comparison and lemon yellow is more appealing than the smell of hell fire!
The Brimstone butterfly is remarkably long lived. It survives for up to a year and it hibernates for seven months of winter in woodland, where it hangs up with its wings folded inconspicuously like an old leaf.
The males wake up much earlier than the females and she waits until the food plant that her offspring will need is in leaf.
Both genders feed on flower nectar and especially like scabious flowers. Their caterpillar food plant is alder buckthorn, which likes wet places and brimstone females move to wet lands to lay their eggs. Butterflies which hatch from these caterpillars sleep the winter away in woodlands, to which they migrate in the cold times and emerge to mate and start the cycle all over again in the spring
Today the butter yellow flash of wings was a promise of spring for me. For the butterfly, it was proof of a winter safely weathered and an invitation to butterfly love!
If we are lucky enough to have a garden, then we are custodians of a tiny slice of the earth and we have control over it ( “up to a point Lord Copper”, as Evelyn Waugh’s character would say.)
The garden has a flat surface, that is the figure on the deeds of the house but how we cover up that space is up to us.
The most negative thing we can do for wildlife is cover it in tarmac or concrete. Black tarmac absorbs heat and actually contributes to global warming.
We can cover it in stones quarried from hundreds of miles away and then drench it in herbicide to stop any passing seed germinating.
We could lay plastic turf over it, or lay wooden boards over it made from dead trees and put plastic furniture on it and heaters and barbecues to burn meat, or reconstituted vegan burgers, surrounded by solar lights from China that stop bats and moths from ever taking wing, all in the name of being in the great outdoors.
All of these options involve buying stuff and making the planet a worse place for wildlife and for us all.
Or we could think in three dimensions. We could think not just of the flat ground we own, but of the whole cubic space above it and how we could maximise that for as many different species as possible.
The simplest thing to start with, is to grow tall plants . Tall plants make use of the sky space to provide food for bees and butterflies, moths and birds. The tallest plants are trees and if you have space to grow real trees then you can make the biggest difference possible to wildlife. Low growing plants are much better than concrete, plastic or stones, but they only make a few inches of life. Tall flowers are beautiful hollyhocks, delphiniums, dahlias foxgloves; what ever flourishes in your climate and soil. Flowering shrubs are wonderful: lavender, lilac, rosemary again what ever the bees like and will tolerate your climate. If bees don’t come to it and you need pesticides to keep it happy, then ditch it. You are doing more harm than good by growing it in the wrong climate. There are always better things you could grow!
Think of the borders of your garden. Could they be alive? Could you have real hedge? Could it have a real mixture of local shrubs that provide berries and nuts in the autumn for birds or evergreen shelter in the winter? If you have a chain link fence, could you grow flowers up that fence? Is there a gap in the fence for hedgehogs or other wildlife to pass between gardens?
Rather than a plastic awning or sunshade, why not sit in the shade of a tree? It is far cooler and more lovely! Plant one now for your future or even that of your children!
A garden can go up as well as down. I decided a pond dug down into my little garden will make a space for frogs and dragonflies and maybe newts and damselflies too and this is my project for the spring.
The earth isn’t flat . Our gardens don’t need to be flat either and by thinking of filling every millimetre of the land we own and the space above it with life will make such a difference to the fragile planet.
It has taken a long time to turn cold here and real frosts have only just begun.
My pretty little acer tree has been flaming for weeks in the drizzle, but the real winter has extinguished it at last. I picked up the final fallen leaf from the ground like a still glowing ember.
The dahlias and gladioli are safely dug up and stored in the basement and the scented geraniums are bulging on the spare room window sill.
When cleaning between the pots, I spotted some tell tale black frass on the window sill. The tiny black spheres were the frass of a caterpillar that has smuggled its way into the warm of the house.
We managed to find it, well camouflaged amongst the munched green leaves and I am hoping it may grow into a hawk moth caterpillar of some description. Hawk moths caterpillars have wonderful markings and spikes on their tails. The adult moth could be a thing of astonishing beauty: a humming bird, eyed, or even an elephant’s head hawk moth; but dreams of gorgeously patterned moth wings are still months away.
Until then I have to wait with the lucky caterpillar, in the warm back room, for the seasons to slowly change.
In high summer, my moth trap is so full of wonders that I have to admit to feeling occasionally overwhelmed by the job of identifying and recording them all.
As summer wanes, the moths that appear in the trap change in name and in number and by the end of autumn I am lucky to find a single one on the outside of the trap, or hiding on the egg boxes inside.
The season is over.
Before I put the trap in the garden shed I plugged it in one last time and wonderfully there was a new species sat on the lid waiting for me in the cold morning.
He was a mottled umber and I can confidently assign him a gendre as the females of this species are wingless and very different. He was jeweled with dew on his “ fur” and the zig zag markings were sharp and clear.
Here are a few more new species that I have identified in the garden this year (often with the invaluable help of the county moth recorder)
Obviously these are not to scale. The large wainscot is not that large! The small yellow wave was quite small and it seemed a good way to wave goodbye to the season.
I hope you have enjoyed meeting a few of my new finds!
The weather has finally turned cool and I have brought the last ones in to dry on top of the wood burning stove.
What I cannot share with you is their wonderful and unexpected scent of vanilla! After being toasted on the stove, the remaining sugars release a real smell of caramel and I can understand where the idea of chili chocolate must have come from. Cooked, they are pungent and spicy enough to make your eyes sting, but before cooking they are innocently sweet.
I like growing chilies because you have to start them so early on the window sill in spring. When the weather is still drear out side but my fingers are itching to start gardening again, they germinate faithfully in their trays and the sturdy little green plants grow slowly but surely until it is frost free and safe to plant them out. They need a good summer to flower and for the seed pods to ripen, but I have only had one disastrous year and generally they do very well in our warming world.
Chopped and stored in a jar, they will heat curries and many other dishes in the drear time before I can plant some seeds again!
You must be logged in to post a comment.